Volume 12, Issue 13 ~ March 25-31, 2004

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Dock of the Bay

On the Record: The Week That Was
Bay Trust Honors Mel Wilkins

Gambrills resident Mel Wilkins earned a Chesapeake Bay Trust award for his environmental contributions to the community.
The Chesapeake Bay Trust has honored Gambrills resident Mel Wilkins with its 2004 Ellen Fraites Wagner Award. After retiring in 1999 from Lockheed Martin, Wilkins founded the Spa Creek Conservancy, restoring an eroding shoreline, creating rain gardens to trap runoff and removing invasive plants strangling the creek’s headwaters. He also designed the Maryland native gardens at both Arc of Anne Arundel County and the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. The award recognizes his outstanding volunteer contributions to restoring Chesapeake Bay.

Fire Chief Doused
After months of heat over the Anne Arundel County Fire Department’s management and overtime policies, Chief Roger Simonds was asked to resign by County Executive Janet Owens.

The March 19 dismissal came on the heels of comments Simonds made to the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, saying the fire department was too unstable and fiscally troubled for re-accreditation. The county’s health officer, Frances Philips, has been named acting chief.

Gilchrest Speaks Out against Slots
Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest angered many in his party — foremost among them Gov. Robert Ehrlich — by speaking against the slots legislation the governor has pushed the last two legislative sessions. First in a Sunday opinion piece for the Baltimore Sun and then with his scheduled testimony in front of the House Ways and Means Committee, the congressman strongly opposed any of the slot bills floating around the legislature.

“He felt obligated to stand up,” said a Gilchrest spokesman. “He saw slots morph from helping the horse racing industry into the state becoming dependent on the revenue from giant slots casinos.”

In contrast to the governor’s slots legislation, House Speaker Michael Busch has pushed through his chamber a proposed $670 million in new taxes.
Busch Wants a Penny-Plus More
An already tense legislative session grew more contentious Monday when House Speaker Michael Busch proposed an estimated $670 million dollar tax increase. Busch pushed the measure through both the Ways and Means Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, forcing a floor vote and a possible standoff with the governor — who has already threatened to veto this measure — as well as all new taxes.

The proposal would increase the sales tax by one percent from five to six percent; set a higher tax bracket for the wealthiest three percent of Marylanders; and raise $145 million from titling fees on car registration.

“You clearly have some folks insistent on the old way of doing business around here,” countered Ehrlich at a press conference.

— Louis Llovio

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Ask the Plant & Pest Professor

Q Can I remove dead vines in early spring?

A Proceed with caution. You may have poison ivy vines. When mature, these vines become woody, appear hairy and grow flattened up against tree trunks. You may want to wait until vines leaf out and identify them before removing.

Many vines infesting our landscapes are exotic introductions run amuck. Woody vines can be cut off at ground level and a high concentration of herbicide applied within five minutes to the freshly cut stump. This should be done when the plant is green or actively growing.

We have publications on poison-ivy removal and invasive-plant control.

Ask the Plant and Pest Professor is compiled from questions sent to the website of the Home and Garden Information Center, part of Maryland Cooperative Extension, an educational outreach of the University of Maryland. Ask a home gardening or pest control question and find other help: 800-342-2507 (Mon.-Fri. 8am-1pm) • www.hgic.umd.edu.

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Musical Chairs
Owings moves to Veterans Affairs, leaving Calvert an empty delegate seat

Hope and opportunity are blowing through Calvert County, as men and women who would be delegate contemplate filling George Owings’ seat in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Owings, 58, will leave the House, where he served 16 years, in June to become secretary of Veterans Affairs. He was appointed by the governor last week; this week the Senate Executive Nominations Committee unanimously recommended him to the full senate, which was scheduled to vote after press time.

“I was hoping George was going to stay because he’s been a great friend for so many years to people in both Southern Anne Arundel and Calvert counties,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who shares part of his territory with Owings. Still, Miller voted in committee to confirm Owings in his new job, which begins in June, after the legislative session.

“It’s a golden opportunity on behalf of the governor to serve the veterans of the state, who are among our most deserving citizens. With half a million veterans, plus their dependents and spouses, they make a constituency as large as a congressional district — as opposed to only 36,000 in a House district. But I have mixed emotions about leaving the house I love,” Owings told Bay Weekly.

photo by Louis Llovio
Delegate no more come June, when after 16 years George Owings leaves Maryland’s house to become Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Jobs like this $84,000-appointment open up only when somebody else is moving up or moving out. Moves in both directions are in the background of Owings’ appointment to a job he has long desired. Colonel Thomas E. ‘Tim’ Hutchings moved from Veterans Affairs, where he’d served a year, to become superintendent of the Maryland State Police. That move was possible only after previous superintendent Edward T. Norris pleaded guilty to misappropriating police funds for his personal use.

Meanwhile, Owings’ soon-to-be-vacated $40,000-a-year job is raising hopes and interest in northern Calvert County — and beyond. To qualify, you’ve got to live in northern Calvert County, for after the 2000 census Owings’ district was redrawn to run from Prince Frederick to the county line, except for the bit of northwestern Calvert, around Dunkirk, bundled in a Prince George’s district. And you’ve got to be a Democrat, like Owings.

The county’s Democratic Central Committee will interview would-be delegates and will make its recommendation to the governor. Ehrlich, in turn, has promised to respect the committee’s decision, though governors can hurry the process by choosing before the committee.

Would-be delegates aren’t waiting for the committee to advertise the job. At the top of the list are two former county commissioners, Mark Frazer and Hagner Mister.

Mister, also a former secretary and deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, traces his roots to a Huntingtown tobacco farm. “I’ve been around here for a while and seen growth evolve over the years, and I think we’ve got critical issues ahead,” says Mister. “My experience that I gained in Annapolis in various legislative committees and the friends I made — I could convey those contacts and relationships into tanglible benefits for my consitutents.”

Frazer, who is mayor of North Beach, is a dentist who years ago moved to Calvert from Washington, D.C., to join his father’s practice. “Both of Calvert’s municipalities, North Beach and Chesapeake Beach, are located in George’s district. I understand the problems municipalities face both at county and state levels,” said Frazer, who is also president of the Maryland Municipal League.

If he’s appointed, Frazer would have to resign as North Beach mayor, opening another round of musical chairs.

Current County Commissioner Wilson Parran is also considered a contender. Were he to seek and get the job, he’d be Calvert’s first African American to represent the district.

Neither has Calvert sent a woman to Annapolis. Former commissioner Barbara Stinnett, who just missed re-election in 2002, is said to be contemplating seeking Owings’ old job.

Whoever gets the job keeps it for two years. Then Calvert County voters decide, and Republican Commissioner David Hale is seen as a hot contender for Owings’ historically Democratic seat.


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Shaping a Community’s Future
Citizens debate developer Petrie’s proposed Deale Village Center

Deale passes for a town, but it has no community center so churches do double duty on the rare occasions the Southern Anne Arundel water village turns to public business. Pews were filled and aisles packed as 400 people warmed up Cedar Grove United Methodist Church to hear retail developer Walt Petrie propose a Deale Village Center.

“We believe the plan you’re looking at … adds well-planned residential housing plus retail to support the community and new residents,” Petrie told the crowd, starting two hours of give and take on how Deale’s future might shape up.

At issue was Tommy Wellons’ 22 central acres along Rockhold Creek. Today, they’re occupied by Gates Marina.

“I had it on the market for a while to sell as a marina,” Wellons told Bay Weekly. That plan didn’t work. Nor did negotiations pan out with the county to develop a community center and parks to realize the Deale Small Area Plan.

Now, Petrie has an option on Wellons’ land, and in the last 10 months he’s gathered citizens and other professionals to advise on how to build a village center there. “It eliminates fragmentation and tries to utilize the vision of the plan,” he said.

Petrie’s “comprehensive development plan” doesn’t include the community green the Small Area Planners hoped for, and it won’t give Deale a community center. But it will open a public park along the water. Getting that park carries a price tag: 108 family townhouses, 75 homes for seniors, 60,000 square feet of retail space and acres of impervious surface.

As well as no community center, Deale has no local government. The nearest elected official is County Councilman Ed Reilly, who represents a vast area from Crofton, where he lives, to the Calvert County line with South County right in the middle.

Winning the strongest support at this concept stage were the public park and housing — independent, not assisted — for ages 55 and up. Complaints ranged from density to the potential for drug dealing to drawing new residents who’ll soon be wanting Starbucks locally.

“Other than a park what are we getting?” asked Judy Leonard of Deale. “You want to take this community and break it apart.”

Another Dealite, Bill Heller, was ready to move in. “I’m looking to downsize,” he said. “I want to be your first buyer” for age-restricted housing.

A “straw vote” of hands showed citizens roughly divided into thirds: opposed, in favor and undecided.

As for what will happen next, “We are going to regroup, read and evaluate the comments,” Petrie told Bay Weekly. “Before we do this, it has got to make economic sense.”

Comment on the proposal at jl@pietreventures.com.

—SOM wtih Andy McDonald

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Get Outta Here, Judges Say
In primaries, independents get no respect

If you’re an independent voter, and on March 2 you went to vote in Anne Arundel County’s primary, you’d have been shown the door — not the electronic voting machine. Your fate would have been the same in St. Mary’s County. Both counties were holding “nonpartisan” elections for circuit court judges that day, yet only Republicans and Democrats got to vote.

Meanwhile, between Anne Arundel and St. Mary’s, Calvert County’s 156 independents were welcomed among the voters who elected school board members.
Does that seem right to you?

It didn’t seem right to disappointed St. Mary’s and Anne Arundel voters Michael Suessmann and Gregory Care. It didn’t, either, to the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued Suessmann and Care’s case in court this month.

“It’s an historical anomaly that creates a bizarre system,” said ACLU attorney David Rocah, who took the case.

Suessmann stood on principle, allowing that his vote wouldn’t have made a difference in the St. Mary’s election, where the suit had originally been filed. Care, however, asked for a new judicial election in Anne Arundel County, arguing that this vote — together with the votes of other disenfranchised independents — could have changed election results.

It may not feel right to you, but it’s perfectly legal, according to the three circuit court judges who ruled on the case March 11. They are Richard Sothoron Jr. of Prince George’s County; Warren Krug of Calvert County; and Christopher Henderson of Charles County.

Snapping their sentences like whips, the judges flayed the plaintiffs for crimes — at least misdemeanors — of logic and affrontery.

In the first place, the judges found filing a suit in St. Mary’s County for relief sought in Anne Arundel County “a misdirected … back-door approach.”

In the second place, the suit failed as a class action, the judges concluded. Because each plaintiff wanted to support particular candidates, the judges accused them of “partisan interests … which clearly separates their intent from that of other unaffiliated voters.”

In the third place, the judges ridiculed the prayer for relief as “defy[ing] logic … offer[ing] no specifics as to how a second primary could be initiated, not to mention the ramificaitons involving notice, costs, closing schools to accommodate voting locations, etc.”

There’s a fourth, point, too. That, said the judges, is misdirection. “the Maryland legislature is the ‘correct’ forum to address changing the current judicial election process,” they concluded, “not this three-judge panel nor some other jurist in the future.”

Independents got to vote in school board elections, by the way, because “judicial candidates participate in a partisan nomination process (as opposed to Board candidates) notwithstanding being listed on the ballot without party designation.”

Looks like all you independent voters will be disappointed until November 2, when the early judicial victors face off in yet another nonpartisan election. At least for now that’s how it looks.

“We are filing an appeal,” Rocah told Bay Weekly this week.


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Way Downstream …

Virginians got a cold shower this week when a new report found that more than half of the state’s rivers and streams and three-fourths of its coastal estuaries are polluted or otherwise impaired. The study — required by the U.S. EPA to help assess the quality of their waters over time — found low oxygen, heavy fecal bacteria and hazardous chemicals like PCBs …

From West Virginia, we’re hearing lame excuses when it comes to cleaning up the Bay. A new study says that because of budget problems, that state will have a hard time meeting its share of the multi-state commitment to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. West Virginia is a participant because the Potomac River, a major Bay tributary, begins there…

Our Creature Feature comes from China, where spring has sprung in a happy way for 76 endangered giant pandas. The government announced last week that the rare creatures are being moved to bigger and “more interesting” accommodations.

“The environment is dull,” said a spokesman, and some pandas were throwing themselves against fences in frustration. But soon, each panda will have roaming space that is four times as large, about 4,300 square feet.

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© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated March 25, 2004 @ 2:37am.